Mama Sue: Nurse, educator and vaccinator

By: Matthew Walker

Sue Greishaw, B.S.N., F.N.P., came out of retirement to help vaccinate people against COVID-19.

When Sue Greishaw, B.S.N., F.N.P., moved to Gainesville from Virginia to continue her already well-established nursing career, she could not have foreseen the twists and turns, and, ultimately, the rewards, that lay ahead.

“I was working for a hospital corporation in Virginia and they promised me a job in Gainesville,” Greishaw said.

She packed up her belongings and headed south with a plan — or so she thought. But when she arrived in Gainesville, there was no job to be found. The hospital didn’t follow through with the expected job opening and Greishaw had some important decisions to make, quickly.

Greishaw decided to stay in Gainesville.

Little did she know this decision would carry her down a three-decade path that would include working as a nurse, an educator and a health care soldier in a years-long battle, fighting against a global pandemic that was unprecedented in modern times.

Oh, and folks would come to know her as an expert cookie baker as well.

“I started working as a float nurse at Shands, and I floated on all of the med-surg units and in the bone marrow transplant unit,” she said. “Because I had left a very successful career and was making great money back in Virginia, a friend suggested that I should go back to school.”

Her immediate thought was, “No way,” Greishaw explained. But ultimately, she decided it would be a good decision.

“So, I went back to school at 45, which was not easy,” she said.

In the meantime, Greishaw was still working as a float nurse and quickly realized she was often answering questions from students in the UF College of Nursing. Folks took notice of how handily she answered questions and helped the students out and it wasn’t long before Greishaw found herself in the dual roles of student — working toward becoming a family nurse practitioner — and visiting assistant professor in the College of Nursing.

Upon completion of her degree, Greishaw worked at a local private practice. During this time, Greishaw worked closely with Eileen Lauzardo, M.D., and became friends with Lauzardo and her husband, Michael Lauzardo, M.D., M.S.C., deputy director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Greishaw returned to UF, where she worked in the UF Student Health Care Center as a family nurse practitioner.

Becoming Mama Sue

In her early days in Gainesville working with students, Greishaw got to know UF Gator football player, Reggie Green. The 6-foot-7-inch offensive tackle is heralded today as one of the best linemen to ever play for the Gators.

“Reggie gave me the name, Mama Sue,” Greishaw said. “And I was called that forever by Reggie Green.”

Greishaw unwittingly solidified her name as Mama Sue in the late ‘90s when UF was establishing a new email system. A UF IT worker was helping Greishaw set up her account, and while she thought she was selecting ‘MamaSue’ as her password, she had actually selected it as her username — solidifying her UF email address as forever.

“I said, ‘No, no, I cannot have that as my email address. I’m a nurse practitioner. I’m a health care professional,’’” Greishaw recalled. The IT worker told her that he liked the name and thought she should keep it — not to mention the added work to change the already official email address.

“So, I became Mama Sue,” she said. “My patients loved it. The parents loved it and would say, ‘We’re just so glad that Mama Sue is caring for our students.’ So, I kept it and it became my nickname to many.”

Vaccinator and cookie provider extraordinaire

Greishaw retired in 2018 after a fruitful and satisfying 47-year career in nursing.

Of course, she barely had time to settle into retirement before the world was thrown into disarray in early 2020 with the fast, unprecedented spread of COVID-19 and all the questions surrounding how to deal with it.

“I was so depressed watching the stories on the news and wanting desperately to take care of patients,” Greishaw said. “But, I thought, ‘I’m too old to go back into an ICU.’ I was 70 years old at that point. So, I stayed home.”

When the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in early 2021, Greishaw got hers as soon as possible.

“Then, in February, Michael Lauzardo said they were looking for vaccinators,” she said. “I signed up. I started at the stadium as a volunteer vaccinator when they were doing 5,000 (vaccines) a day.”

Greishaw was blown away by how the medical community and the community at large came together during this time.

“I literally relieved an attending neurologist one day. Another day, I was relieved by an attending orthopaedic surgeon,” she said. “I know the value of their time. People were donating their administrative hours to give vaccines for four hours. That’s not usually something physicians are able to do.”

She recalls seeing other pillars of the Gainesville community directing traffic and delivering supplies.

Greishaw, who served as a visiting assistant professor in the College of Nursing, speaks to students in 1995.

“It was just amazing to see the caliber of folks who were volunteering,” Greishaw said. “We could not have done it without each other. That was the coolest thing to me. I could not give 100 shots in four hours without having a pharmacist filling the syringes and a runner bringing them to us, and without someone handling the paperwork and entering the data. I remember, one night at 7 p.m., Dr. Lauzardo was rolling up his sleeves and giving vaccines.”

Greishaw’s stint as a volunteer vaccinator ultimately brought her out of retirement — somewhat. When the initial rush of vaccinations dwindled, Greishaw was asked if she would like to come back to work part-time at the Student Health Care Center.

“I thought, ‘Oh man, I am loving retirement. I love sleeping in. Do I really want to go back?’ she said. “But, you know what? I did it and I’m so glad that I did.”

On Halloween last year, Greishaw said she brought in freshly baked cookies for the students and, needless to say, they were a hit.

“Ever since then, I bring in cookies on Fridays. I went through six dozen cookies this past Friday,” she said one day in early spring.

The greatest reward for Greishaw is knowing how many people she has helped and the relationships she has forged with students, parents and colleagues over the years.

“I loved working with college students and giving them care, and I still have such great relationships with my patients,” she said. “When I initially worked at Student Health, I had a file folder labeled ‘Why I am here.’ In that folder, I put letters and emails from students and their parents thanking me for the care I provided.”

And she keeps the folder to this day.

“When I have a crappy day, I pull out the folder and say, ‘OK, on that day, I made a difference,” Greishaw said. “It’s so neat to be able to reflect back. And I love being back on campus because I think college kids keep me young. I love being back as a vaccinator.”